network

Networking: Don’t Shake Hands, Build a Network

By Kristen Harris

Do you cringe when you hear the word “networking”? Get invited to a “networking event” and suddenly have an unavoidable conflict? Often say “I hate networking”?

If all you can think of when you hear that word is a room full of fast-talking people handing out business cards and shaking hands, I challenge you to think differently about what networking really is.

Consider these definitions of network, as a noun:

  1. a group or a system of interconnected people or things

  2. an association of individuals having a common interest, formed to provide mutual assistance, helpful information, or the like

  3. any netlike combination of filaments, lines, veins, passages, or the like (e.g. a network or arteries; a network of sewers under the city)

Think about that visual of a net. An interwoven web, where people are connected to you and each other, building a fabric that is fluid but strong. Nets may have many strands or a few, and are made from relatively thin thread; the strength comes from how they are woven and knotted together.

Or, this definition, as a verb:

  1. to cultivate people who can be helpful to one professionally, especially in finding employment or moving to a higher position

Cultivate, that’s an interesting word. A network might be like a beautiful flower garden filled with people you like and care about. You choose what gets planted, and spend time tending to it, adding water and fertilizer to help it grow.

None of these definitions talk about giving a 30-second elevator pitch over and over, handing out business cards to anyone who will take one, or trying to shake hands with 100 people in an hour. That’s what gives “networking” a bad name, and makes people cringe. Don’t do that.

The activity and purpose of networking is truly to build a network.

Whether personal or professional, you’re creating a strong, vibrant, useful network of people of who know you, care about you, and are willing to help. And that you know, care about, and are willing to help as well.

How do you do that? Try just making friends. Go to places or events where people you might want to meet are likely to be. Be friendly, talk to someone, ask questions, learn about them, and tell them about yourself. Be a nice person, and ask for their card so you can connect later. After the event, decide who should be added to your network and invite them in through LinkedIn, email, or an invitation to get coffee. Purposefully spend time with people you like and find interesting, they’re likely to feel the same way about you.

Weave your net, or plant and tend your garden. Focus on quantity over quality, and person-by-person you’ll create a network that truly supports you.

For tips on networking for introverts, check out one of my previous blog posts.